Shortwave refers to electromagnetic radiation in the frequency range 2 to 100 MHz. Shortwave therapy is the application of electromagnetic energy to the body at shortwave frequencies. At these frequencies the electromagnetic energy is converted to thermal energy by the induction of circulating currents in the tissue and dielectric absorption in insulating tissue. Shortwave therapy units may produce output power levels of up to 500W providing significant heating to the area of the body being treated. For this reason the treatment is often called shortwave diathermy (through heating). To avoid equipment such as shortwave therapy units interfering with radio communications, certain frequency ranges are designated by international agreement as ISM (Industrial, Scientific and Medical) bands. These are shown in the following table:
Shortwave therapy equipment normally uses the band centred on 27.12 MHz. This corresponds to a wavelength, in a vacuum, of approximately 11 metres.
Shortwave therapy is normally applied at a level which produces detectable heating and the benefits are those associated with the heating effect – encouragement of healing, pain relief, reduction of muscle spasm, increase in mobility etc.
The difference between shortwave therapy and other methods of heating is that it provides “deep heat”. Other heating techniques such as infrared therapy, hot-packs etc., provide the heat externally whereas shortwave therapy generates heat within the tissue.
As with any electrotherapy, there are several potential dangers associated with shortwave therapy. Since relatively high powers are used, there is the possibility of producing burns if the patient is unaware of the heat due to reduced thermal sensation, or if the patient does not know what to expect during treatment. Metal in treatment area will provide low impedance paths to the induced radio frequency current, producing local heating and the possibility of burning. In particular, treatment should never be given in the area of metal implants, metal jewellery, buckles etc must be removed and treatment must never be given with the patient on metal framed couches or chairs. Patients with implanted electronic devices such as cardiac pacemakers must not be treated. Other equipment, including patient connected devices, may be adversely affected when in close proximity to shortwave therapy equipment.
More on Tim Watson’s website www.electrotherapy.org